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All Creatures,

Episode 24: The Real Harpy That’s an Eagle

April 17, 2018

The largest bird of prey, a raptor, is the Harpy Eagle. Native to the Americas, the Harpy Eagle is the apex bird in this area of the world. Deforestation is having a devastating affect on the Harpy Eagle and many other species.

Harpy Eagle Overview

The scientific name for the Harpy Eagle is Harpia harpyja. They belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and old world vultures. Harpy Eagles reside in Central and South America and are still found in parts of Mexico. In South America the range of the Harpy Eagle is enormous ranging from Columbia, Venezuela, down through Brazil and still found in pockets of Argentina.

Despite this enormous range, over 17 million square km, there are only an estimated 50,000 Harpy Eagles left in the world. The major contributor to their decline is the rapid loss of rain forests throughout the region. Other pressures include human-bird conflicts, poaching, and other factors such as unintentional or intentional poisoning.

The Harpy Eagle is now considered threatened with extinction due to a decreasing population.

The previous largest raptor in the world was the Haast’s Eagle, native to New Zealand. Their story is very similar to what is happening to the Harpy Eagle. When the Maori first settled New Zealand in the 1300s they were in direct competition to the Haast’s Eagle for their main source of prey such as the Moa, a large flightless bird. Other factors such as habitat loss, and the Haast’s Eagle most likely had a long generation interval, very similar to today’s Harpy Eagles, that this largest ever bird of prey went extinct, estimated in the early 1800s.   

Harpy Eagle Facts

  • Wingspan of over 7 feet (2.2 meters)
  • Body length of 40 inches (100 cm)
  • Females can weigh up to 20 lbs (9 kg); males half that size
  • Group of eagles called a convocation, or aerie
  • Incredible eyesight; can see 1 inch (2 cm) up to 200 yards away
  • Fly up to 50 mph (80 kph)
  • Diets include primates, opossums, sloths, other birds, or even reptiles
  • Generational interval a few years; do not have chicks every year like other bird species

Harpy Eagle Conservation

The major pressure affecting Harpy Eagles is the loss of their habitat. Deforestation of the rain forests in Central and South America has had devastating affects on their populations. Around the world deforestation is leading to many species and their extinction, the Harpy Eagle being a prime example.

Current estimates have over 750,000 square km (289,000 square miles) of the Amazon rain forests have been lost since the year 1978. The leading cause of deforestation in this area of the world is cattle ranching. So much so, that today it is estimated ¾ of all the Amazon being cleared today is to support this practice.

Conservation Tips

To help support rain forests and conservation we need to speak loudly with our own practices and buying power. One way is to reduce your daily meat consumption. According to the USDA and other nutrition experts, on average a man needs 56 grams of protein per day, and only 46 for the average woman. This is not entirely just animal protein either, as protein can be found in beans, legumes and nuts.

Here is a daily protein intake calculator provided by the USDA here

Organizations to Support

The Peregrine Fund

World Land Trust

Video Links

Inside a Harpy Eagles Nest

Corbin Maxey and the Harpy Eagle

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